John Snow (1813-1858)
John Snow was an eminent Victorian physician who
had very strong links to the area covered by the Northern and
Yorkshire Regional Office of the NHS Executive.
Born in York, the
eldest of nine children, he chose Newcastle as his early training
Despite humble beginnings, he had a prestigious
medical career and made important contributes to two completely
unrelated areas of medicine.
John Snow played a major part in the promotion of
early anaesthesia and became the most influential of Britain's, if
not the world's, earliest anaesthetists. He was also renowned
for work over the discovery of the mode of spread of cholera.
As a child, he lived in the merchant quarter of
York. At 14 he decided on
a medical career, which meant his parents would have had to find
£100, a dauntingly large sum, for his apprenticeship. It was
decided that he would go to Newcastle, where an affluent uncle had
For six years he was apprenticed to an
established practitioner in Newcastle. During this time he
became familiar with the work of a family doctor. It was also
in Newcastle that he had his first experience with cholera, while
attending an outbreak at a mine.
There was a progressive medical environment in
Newcastle and in 1832 an embryonic medical
school opened. John Snow is recorded as being a regular
attender at lectures.
At the end of his apprenticeship, he spent a year
as an assistant to a
practitioner outside Newcastle before returning to Yorkshire.
In 1836 he set off for London to pursue a more
formal medical education and spent a year at the Hunterian School of Medicine,
near London's teaching hospitals.
On completion of this training, he set up a
practice in the center of Soho and remained in London for the rest of his life.
He became President of the Westminster Medical
Society (forerunner of the Royal Society of Medicines) and
contributed many articles to
Anaesthesia was first used in Britain in 1846.
John Snow's interest in physiology and the science of medicine
naturally attracted him to the subject and he rapidly became a
pioneer of its use. Within a short time he had established
many of the principles on which anaesthesia is still based.
Although he continued to work as a family doctor,
his time became increasingly occupied with new interest and he gave
anaesthesia for operations performed by many of London's leading
surgeons. He was the first person to introduce anaesthesia in
childbirth and was called upon to minister to Queen Victoria. He also ran a
substantial private anaesthetic practice for dentistry.
He never forgot his poorest patients.
Often, within a short time of giving anaesthesia to royalty and
members of the government, he could be found working in the most
deprived parts of the capital.
Yet it was his interest in cholera and his
painstaking investigation of an outbreak that earned him a place in
medicine's hall of fame.
During an outbreak
in London in 1854, he tracked the geographical location of each
case and deduced that deaths had occurred among people living near
the Broad Street pump. At the investigation the pump handle
was removed and the epidemic, which was already declining, came to
an end. This signified a new understanding of the nature of
John Snow suffered chronic ill health and died in 1858 at the age of 45.